The teenage years are incredibly formative and challenging. It is a time when they often experiment with their identity and need additional parental attention. Those with mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion, discrimination, educational difficulties, risk-taking behaviours, physical illness and even human rights violations.
A study by Emory University and the University of Rochester of 233 adolescents with an average age of 16 found that teens who fail to acknowledge their negative emotions are more likely to have depressive symptoms after stressful life events. On the other hand, teens who are good at distinguishing negative feelings are better at managing their emotions after dealing with stress, thus lowering their risk of getting depression. (Source: Mission Harbour Behavioral Health)
Sadly, many teenages do not talk to their parents about their feelings until it is too late. As parents, there is only so much one can do if their child won’t talk about their emotions. For starters, once you recognize the problem, encourage your child to talk about what’s on their mind to you, a friend or even a teacher. Second, avoid guessing why they are acting a certain way. Lastly, listen without judgement and only offer advice when asked for it.
When Is Talk Therapy Advisable?
If a teenager shows signs of anxiety, depression or anger and is keeping their emotions bottled up, it’s time to consider professional help. Therapy offers a safe place for teens to express their feelings without judgement or parental influence over their actions.
Even for adults, going to therapy can be a tough pill to swallow. Now imagine a teenager’s reaction to the idea. For some, the shame of admitting that they need help can be overwhelming. For others, it might be a relief that someone is seeing their pain. Yet, it is impossible to predict how a teen might respond to this option. The point is, you won’t know until you try.
Below are some tips from nuturefamilycounseling.com to start discussing therapy with a teen.
- Pick a calm moment versus using therapy as a threat or as a way to prove your point.
- Identify the problem. Let your teen know about the behaviors that concern you. It may be a decline in school grades, social isolation and withdrawal, drastic changes in dress or weight, unprovoked outbursts, obsessiveness, self-harm, substance use, promiscuity, hyperactivity, or anything else out of the ordinary for them.
- Destigmatize therapy. Let them know that seeking professional help is akin to going to the doctor when they can’t shake an illness. Therapy works the same way. If the feeling of sadness, hopelessness, or anxiety won’t go away, it is time to see a professional for help.
- Be compassionate and open-minded. Your first conversation might not go the way you hoped. That’s okay, you can always try again at another time. Remember to stay calm and non-threatening.
- Give them the choice. One of the most uncomfortable feelings is powerlessness at making choices about our lives. Think about when you feel powerless and how it affects you (is it at work when your boss asks you to do something you disagree with?) then remember that feeling when speaking with your teen. Let them know that the final choice is theirs.
For more information about mental health motivational tips, and resources visit speakingcandidlywithcandace.com.